The year was 1981 and I had just taken a job at Central Telephone Company in Hickory, NC. Female employees gathered to celebrate birthdays over lunch—and gift panties.
The telephone company ladies were a practical lot. Granted, a Panty Club wasn’t for everyone, but few invitees turned us down. After all, receiving an entire wardrobe of new panties every year did take the sting out of growing older.
Panty Club Founder Dot Scott passed away recently, and during the receiving my husband and I had the audacity to mention this obscure fact to Dot’s son. He laughed. It didn’t surprise him that his fun-loving Mom had earned a special place in Panty Club history. It seems that she’d been in or heard of a similar group at another workplace. Like all good ideas, this one begged to be shared.
Thirty-six years ago we Ladies of the Panty Club were less interested in burning bras than collecting an annual wardrobe of pretty undies. (The Equal Rights Amendment would soon die its slow death from failure to be ratified in 1982.) Dot was secretary to one of the Centel department heads, so she knew all about keeping things in order. She compiled a list of birthdays of the eight of us who chose to participate, as well our size and style preferences. I remember each member: Dot of course, Betsy, Pat, Carol, Sylvia, Wanda and Sandy.
Back then we were younger and unabashed about our underwear preferences—and our sizes.
Apparently we were not the only club in town. Icard Uniforms (somewhere near Angelo’s and Woolworth’s) had a hand-lettered sign near a display of fancy undies for sale: “Perfect for panty clubs.”
And what better gift could a female gift a female co-worker? For less than $5, one could give a perfectly welcome, usable gift in her perfect size and style.
Every birthday, we’d reserve a table at the 1859 Cafe or The Vintage House or The Pleasure is Mine for a Dutch treat lunch and revealing of panties for the birthday girl. When my friends back at Inform, Inc. heard about my Panty Club, they demanded one of their own, I’ll call Panty Club 2.
Unsuspecting onlookers stared in disbelief as this group of laughing women would ooh and aah at gifted panties in various colors and lace.
When Centel dissolved its state division office in 1984, several of us scattered. The Centel panty club was history while Panty Club 2 thrived. In fact—Nancy, Linda Mae, Connie, and Pat—friends I’d made at my first full-time job in Hickory, became my time-tested sisterhood. Though one member joined and another moved away, the core of us weathered births, deaths, divorces, remarriages, new jobs, new houses and all the rest. We became far more than a group panty swap. We enjoyed beach trips, mountain trips, held baby showers and housewarming parties. We ushered one another past the 30-, 40-, 50- and 60-year milestones.
It’s been years since we gifted panties, but we’re still called “The Panty Club.” I suppose we always will be. There’s something special about a group of women who get together and get along for so many years.
A few months ago, we gathered to celebrate our eldest member’s 70th birthday, along with the “Panty Club Auxiliary”—our husbands. We swapped stories about work, retirement, in-laws and trips to see the grandchildren.
Panty Club 2 helped celebrate my birthday in 2014. Clockwise from lower right: Linda Mae, Connie, Sylvia, Nancy. That’s me in the white sweater.